Even with the joys of becoming parents, many moms- and dads-to-be may assume things they enjoyed before the blessed event — dining out in particular — will have to be back-burnered until their child starts prepping for his SATs. The prospect of a decade’s worth of Chucky Cheese and other theme park-esque chains can be particularly daunting for grown-ups used to white tablecloth date nights and outings to find their next great ethnic dining discovery.
It’s a real fear well-traveled parents face, especially when noted restaurateurs and chefs throughout the world (including Grant Achatz, chef of three Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant Alinea, Jamie Oliver and Flynn’s in Australia) make headlines with their support of “No Children Allowed” policies rather than their culinary innovations.
In a recent presentation for family travel writers at the Martinhal Cascais Resort in Portugal, Melissa Elders revealed that even with this tug-of-war between chefs, childless guests and parents, other restaurateurs were more open-minded and inclusive. Some of those eateries near her home in Brooklyn would be the first locations to host members of her New York City-based Nibble and Squeak dining club.
“When you go to a restaurant, there is an unspoken social contract parents have with other diners and restaurant staff that their family won’t do anything to disturb them,” she explains. “However, young children have often not internalized those social rules yet, and even on the best of days, depending on their age, they will either not understand what they are supposed to do or want to test their boundaries. For these reasons, among others, we created Nibble and Squeak … and we created it for their kids as well.”
In her research to address the needs of prospective Nibble and Squeak members, Elders found millennial parents faced the same social pressures as parents from past generations to keep their kids in line and not be branded “those parents” if they couldn’t. However, rather than leave kids at home with babysitters, they are more inclined to include them in their experiences. With that in mind, Elders used that data to curate a selection of restaurants in Brooklyn open to being a location where member events could be staged during daytime hours, within a private dining space or through a buy-out.
“The experience is designed to make parents and their toddlers feel at ease at a top tier restaurant, and at the same time, encourage the kids to try a variety of different foods and learn how to behave in a restaurant,” Elders explained. “My husband and I have always enjoy trying out new restaurants, and we felt having a toddler should not hinder our passion for discovering new places. Today, I am not just excited to try new foods, but do it alongside parents who have the same passion we do, and who also want their kids to learn about new foods and how to act in restaurants early in life.”
In just a few years since its first sell-out event in 2014, Nibble and Squeak expanded to 16 cities worldwide. While member families can stay abreast of dining club events in their hometowns, they can also use the club’s directory to locate restaurants in other cities where they may vacation (including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Nashville, Hong Kong, and London). Elders added the club’s events have grown to become family affairs that not only include parents and tots, but also grandparents and other relatives.
“One of the goals of the club is to have the greater public recognize babies are a part of society,” said Elders. “While the dinners are not etiquette lessons, how else are children going to (get) exposed to a variety of experiences like this … especially when participating restaurants’ staff makes eye contact with the kids and we offer members extras such as changing stations, diaper bags, step stools, and kids menus … even if they can’t read yet. Meanwhile, parents get a day of special treatment they’ve earned, somebody to cook for them and clean up afterwards.”